March 10, 2023
By Peter F. Stevens
Boston Irish Contributor
“A lie does not consist in the indirect position of words, but in the desire and intention, by false speaking, to deceive and injure your neighbor.”
– Jonathan Swift
The above quote flows from the pen of an illustrious Anglo-Irish satirist and Anglican cleric. It could aptly apply to three Irish Americans who have recently donned the robes of a US Supreme Court justice and provided us with the “Alito Court” – the Roberts Court headed by the chief justice no longer commands the bench – that overturned Roe v. Wade. Regardless of a person’s view on the decision, the fact is that three conservative justices with deep Irish Catholic roots voted to erase 50 years of legal precedent after their appearances at Senate hearings left many Americans thinking they wouldn’t.
As Saint Patrick’s “Month” looms, Americans near and far extol their Irish bloodlines. Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch can all do the same. All three not only share deep ties to the “old sod,” but they also have the proverbial gift of gab, legally speaking. To quote a certain British rock singer whose lifestyle is likely anathema to the jurists, all three have proven “practiced in the art of deception” when it comes to their religious beliefs.
While Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Gorsuch have never denied their bedrock faith, their assertions under oath that their religion would not trump precedent established by the Court matched against their votes on Roe v. Wade give cause to wonder what they thought an oath was all about.
When Donald Trump vowed to appoint only individuals who would vote to overturn Roe, he followed through. The Golfer-in-Chief reached into the Federalist Society tournament roster and appointed this threesome of Irish Americans who, on dumping Roe, ushered in an era where questions on abortion, its allowances and its regulations, are now left to individual states to decide. Different rules for women depending on where they live in these so-called United States is the justices’ legacy on individual rights, especially on those of girls and women who have been raped, are the victims of incest, or are facing toxic pregnancies. “No exceptions” is what the Alito Court has set in motion.
On March 17, Kavanagh and Barrett can celebrate their Irish heritage. Gorsuch, a practicing Episcopalian, can similarly espouse pride in his maternal Irish Catholic ancestry. His mother, Anne Irene McGill Gorsuch Burford, was born into a family with deep Donegal roots. She went on to carve out a distinguished career in politics and was named by President Reagan as the first woman to lead the EPA.
Kavanaugh, the son of Martha Gamble (née Murphy) and Everett Edward Kavanaugh Jr., has Irish roots on both sides. The judge’s great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Co. Roscommon in the late 19th century. On his mother’s side, his great-great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland to New Jersey.
Justice Barrett, from a devout Catholic family and upbringing, can trace her maternal family tree to Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, Ireland.Her father's family line is largely Frenchm, with several Irish ancestors.
Putting aside one’s personal views on Roe, the gnawing question is this: Did Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Gorsuch perjure themselves in front of the United States Senate and the nation? The consensus among legal pundits is that the trio’s carefully phrased responses did not rise to that level.
Another question has elicited quite another answer from many: Did the three judges intentionally mislead and deceive the public. Again, it depends upon whom you talk with, hear, or read.
In an article for Northeastern News, Dan Urman, director of the Law and Public Policy Minor at Northeastern, said that the justices’ “careful lawyerly phrasing” indicated they “were prepared to overturn Roe.”
E.J. Montini, in the Arizona Republic, asserted that the Sisters of St. Joseph “who so rigorously guided me through parochial grade school” would have branded the judges as liars. They taught him, he said, that “should you choose to dodge a question in order not to tell the truth … you are, essentially, lying.”
In fairness, every Supreme Court candidate brought forward by Democratic presidents has also bobbed and weaved around Roe, but when they were asked about their support of Supreme Court precedents, they did signal their view of Roe as settled law and an established right supported by a majority of Americans.
Conversely, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Gorsuch, after using “careful lawyerly phrasing” in their statement to US senators, won approval to the Court and then gutted a 50-year precedent, leaving many to suspect that it is the first of many while they hold the majority.